General Information

General Information

How’s the weather today?

For many indigenous communities, the weather is very much a part of life. The rising and setting of the sun, the direction of the wind, the amount of rainfall, have meaning and relationship to how life goes in a community. Recently, however, intensifying changes to weather patterns have been observed. These changes have, in turn, changed patterns of wildlife or of plant growth, affecting the lives of indigenous peoples.

What is going on?

The weather changes in short periods of time. Even in a day, the weather can change from a sunny morning to a rainy afternoon. Over a very long period of time, say 30 years, a certain area would show a weather pattern. This “averaged” weather is called climate. The NASA (National Aeronautical and Space Administration), a special office in the US that studies space, says that an easy way to remember the difference is that “climate is what you expect, like a very hot summer, and weather is what you get, like a hot day with pop-up thunderstorms.”

What’s going on, is that the climate is changing, and it is changing mainly because of human activities. What’s more, it is changing too fast.

How do we know that the climate is changing?

The earth, as we already know it, goes around the sun. It is the sun that warms the air surrounding the earth, bringing about the different types of climate in different areas. This “air” that surrounds the earth is called the atmosphere and it is composed of a combination of different gases. Our interest is on a group of gases called the greenhouse gases (GHGs). They are called greenhouse gases because these gases in the atmosphere act like the glass walls of a greenhouse, which allows the sun's rays to enter but keeps the heat in. Greenhouse gases are chemical compounds such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide found in the atmosphere. These gases naturally exist. However, people are adding more of these gases into the atmosphere by human activities such as using machines to run factories, generate power and for transportation; massive land development or simply farming! Some of the heat that comes from the sun goes back out of the earth. It is the greenhouse gases that absorb some of the sun’s radiation, trapping the heat, so that the earth could stay warm, otherwise, it will be too cold.

This natural process is called the greenhouse effect. As humans and their activities emit more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the greenhouse effect becomes stronger. This results to global warming. Global warming is the noted average increase in the surface temperature of the earth and its oceans compared to previous centuries. Global warming is one key aspect of climate change. Carbon dioxide is the main GHG and its main source is the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal that we use to run machines such as cars. Fossil fuels are called so because they come from the decay, burial and compaction of rotting vegetation on land, and of marine organisms on the sea floor and formed over millions of years.

You will be surprised to know that another major source of carbon is though activities that deforest trees or lead towards its degradation. These activities include large scale logging, mining, forest fires, expansion of agricultural land. In fact, a third of the carbon emission in the air is attributable to these kind of activities.

We are already feeling the other signs of climate change;

Who is responsible for the rapid increase of greenhouse gases?

As you already know, most of the greenhouse gases that are in the atmosphere come from the burning of fossil fuels for energy and by industrial processes such as petroleum refining and cement manufacturing. When people started using machines some 250 years ago, they started burning a lot of fossil fuels for their factories and farms. People started building cities and using cars and other machines that require fossil fuels for energy. This time was called the Industrial Revolution, and it began in Great Britain and spread through regions of Europe and to the United States. Today, these countries are called the “Industrialized Nations” and have included some countries in Asia and in the Pacific Rim as well. It is now clear that it is these developed countries - North America, Europe and Australia - who are responsible historically for emitting all these greenhouse gases with their energy-dependent and wasteful lifestyles. It is not fair that indigenous peoples from most African countries, Asia and Latin America who cannot afford to travel in cars and planes, do not have heating or air conditioning in their homes but have sustainable lifestyles and practices are those who suffer the most from climate change.

So what if the climate changes? Why are we, indigenous peoples, affected most?

For thousands of years, we indigenous peoples have lived closely and in relation to the land and to nature. The different plants and animals in the places where we live are the sources of our food, medicines, and livelihood. Our waters and lands are not only useful for us, they are also sacred. We live a sustainable way of life where we produce and harvest what we need, all the time ensuring balance with nature. It is because of this intrinsic relationship that we feel the most severe effects of climate change. Even with a low level of warming, the effects of climate change will definitely affect our lives. For example, just a one degree Celsius increase in global temperature will change how plants grow in the forest. With a two degree Celsius increase, many plants and animals will die, and most corals will be bleached. Imagine if it becomes even warmer, more and more people will be affected by flooding, drought, increase of diseases, extreme weather events and species extinction. Indigenous peoples, with their traditional ways of life, live with low–carbon to carbon neutral ways of life. A low-carbon lifestyle is characterized by indigenous peoples’ continuing practice of sustainable traditional livelihoods and low levels of consumption. We as indigenous peoples have preserved the biodiversity of our lands for hundreds of years by caring for nature and using it only in sustainable ways. Although indigenous peoples have contributed the least to climate change, it is in the areas where we live that the impacts of climate change are being felt most.

For thousands of years, indigenous peoples thrived by depending on diverse ecosystems for their nutrition, economic, cultural, social and spiritual experience. An ecosystem is an area that consists of organisms such as plants, animals, and even bacteria, interacting with one another and their non-living environment. Indigenous peoples share an intricate relationship with the ecosystems where they live:

How exactly will climate change affect us?

Climate change has and will affect indigenous peoples in almost, if not, all aspects of our lives:

What have our governments done to address climate change?

Our governments are part of an agreement by almost all countries in the world to respond to climate change. This agreement is called the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change or UNFCCC. It serves as the framework by which countries base their responses to climate change and it has been into force since 1994. However, with the realization that greenhouse gas emissions continued to rise around the world, the countries/ states or “Parties” of the UNFCCC, began negotiations to come up with a “firm and binding commitment by developed countries to reduce emissions.” The result of these negotiations was the Kyoto Protocol. Between 2008 and 2012, the Kyoto Protocol sets targets for industrialized countries to reduce their pollution and gives them flexibility on how they can reach these targets. In the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, these industrialized countries are called the Annex 1 Parties.2 The explicit heavier burden placed on developed countries stems from the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This means that it is only fair to require more emission reductions from developed countries because they can afford to pay the cost of cutting emissions. Besides, these countries have historically contributed more in GHG emissions per person than in developing countries. There are different ways for people to avoid the serious impacts of climate change. The most important thing to do, is of course, to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases at source – which would be the industrialized countries.

What is being done to respond to climate change?

But what's being done as climate change is happening?

Coping with the impacts of climate change is called Adaptation.

Why should mitigation measures be a concern for indigenous peoples?